Report of failed driver tests, Rory McIlroy's comments add more fuel to the distance debate

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Report of failed driver tests, Rory McIlroy's comments add more fuel to the distance debate

PGA Tour

Report of failed driver tests, Rory McIlroy's comments add more fuel to the distance debate

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At this pace, a “Distance Insights” report may not even be necessary.

The USGA and R&A joint report “to study the past, present and future impacts of distance in golf” was expected by Thanksgiving. That date is still in flux and may turn out to be ambitious given last weekend’s need to add two more addendums.

According to a Reuters report, at least five drivers failed the PGA Tour’s new random testing procedures at the Safeway Classic. With only 30 players randomly tested each week, the number of clubs deemed non-conforming appears unexpectedly high.

Granted, we’re nearing the end of the year. Players are likely to have hit thousands of balls and the infamous “CT creep” that alters face characteristics could have set in. No manufacturer appeared to have a majority of the non-conforming clubs, further validating the creep case. Whatever the factors, rules are rules and the latest episode is a reminder that manufacturers are delivering clubs so close to the line that drivers experiencing normal usage will inevitably fail the test.

The moral of the story?

Distance is everything in the modern professional game.

Couple that sensibility with Rory McIlroy’s Instagram comments and there appears to be groundswell for at least discussing how elite golfers play the game.

Following his disdainful post-round comments about the ease of European Tour course setups compared with the PGA Tour’s approach, McIlroy backed off that take. In a Monday morning Instagram post, he said the “venting” came “from the right place.” McIlroy then joined the list of great players — Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods – who are uneasy about how the sport is played.

“Strategy, course management and shot making are important aspects of tournament golf that are being slowly taken out of the game at the top level, not just in Europe but worldwide,” McIlroy wrote.

Translation: one of the game’s longest and best drivers, who has benefited from an emphasis on distance over precision, does not like what he sees. While McIlroy has dropped similar hints in the last year, his remarks came after twice playing the Old Course at St. Andrews and in a year when he played his most consistent golf.

To have a player at the top suggesting there is a problem with the way the game is played, even as he’s benefited from the shift toward distance versus overall skill, speaks to McIlroy’s integrity. His views also indicate a willingness to put the sport above his own game, something Nicklaus and Woods have also done.

So somewhere in Far Hills and St. Andrews, the Distance Insights report is getting an update to include the weekend’s news. But at this pace, the report may not be necessary as perspectives evolve around what really matters. Even if it’s the perspective of those who benefit from the pursuit of distance above all else.

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